The Short Version: Miriam Black has tried to go straight – living with Louis, working a day job – but an ordinary life is not for her. And when she discovers a serial killer preying on the students at a girls boarding school, she decides to take on fate once again. But the river is rising for Miriam Black and this time she might not be able to keep her head above water…
The Review: Well shit. I really enjoyed Blackbirds, the first Miriam Black novel, but I had no idea that Wendig was going to explode his universe and level up in nearly every way with book two. This went from a series that I think I could really like to a series that I know I love in the space of about 75 pages. This was downright awesome.
Where to start? The beginning, I guess. We open down the line from the end of Blackbirds, Miriam and Louis having tried to make a go of it… but Miriam, of course, ain’t that kind of girl. She quits her job at a big-box store but then tries to stop a robbery at said store, intervening against fate once again. But fate isn’t prepared to play nice this time and it sets Miriam wobbling down a very uncertain path. She tries to leave Louis but, like the magnets that Wendig is fond of describing them as, they crash back together and he gets her a job: a “find out how this person dies” job.
Which leads, of course, to much more than she bargained for.
Miriam is still Miriam, wonderfully – and the cast surrounding her is great, too. Louis continues to be a complicated foil for her, providing both security and danger in a way that’s tough to make peace with. Katey and the cast of characters at the school are all delightful as well, even bit players like the guy who watches the driveway gate making an impression. Nobody is just evil or just good (not unlike, you know, the real world) and those strange quirks of character that keep us all living in the gray also keep the novel grounded in the real. Which is both a blessing and a curse when you’re dealing with a pretty terrifying serial killer.
It seems an obvious choice that somebody who can tell how people die might come across a serial killer – but Wendig isn’t interested in the obvious choices. This isn’t some big city Patrick Bateman type… but rather, a serial killer of students at a boarding school for troubled girls. Now that is a nice twist; it pulls in elements of classic horror while also promising some serious emotional stuff for our heroine (a troubled girl herself). And Wendig manages to provide both in just the right doses, keeping the story from getting too bogged down in the emotional stuff (did I mention the school isn’t too far from where Miriam grew up?) while also making sure that Miriam continues to develop and flesh out as a character – and also making sure that we are never once bored.
There are two twists in the tale, coming hard upon each other and I honestly didn’t see the first (or, by extension, the second) coming. I knew something was up when there were still a good hundred or so pages to go and the case appeared to be wrapped up – but Wendig is smart enough to know that you’re going to notice that and that you’re going to expect those last hundred pages to deliver… and boy howdy, do they ever deliver.
For one thing, they’re terrifying. And horrifying. Both things. The first novel had some frightening bits but this really ramps up fast, including an image of bound victim and plague-doctor-dressed killer that won’t easily shaken from one’s mind. But perhaps my favorite part about those last hundred pages, avoiding spoilers as best I can, is how they expand our understanding not of Miriam as a character but Miriam’s world. This is a world where somebody can touch you and see how you die… and so doesn’t it make sense that Miriam wouldn’t be the only one with a psychic gift? Speaking of, what the hell is her gift – and is it… changing?
Plus, there’s the question raised of whether or not Miriam’s attempts to change fate are, in fact, a good thing or not. You stop someone from dying now… but does that make the world better or worse? It’s the same quandary recently faced by The Doctor, for example, and it’s wonderful to see spec-fic in all its forms embracing such tough questions.
There’s a lot of really cool stuff going on here and the snappy writing and short chapters make you just barrel through it, grinning the whole time. To say that I’m ravenous for the third installment in Miriam’s saga would be an understatement, especially considering the promise of some heavier emotional stuff indeed that’s teased by the book’s ending…
Rating: 5 out of 5. Oh hell yes, is basically the best thing I can say. Wendig made an immediate impression with Miriam Black in the first installment of her series and the impressions are only confirmed here: she’s a grade-A badass, hot as hell, and tremendously captivating. We need more Miriam Blacks in our world – I love to imagine what she would’ve said to those buffoons on stage last night for the Republican debate, for example…
But I digress: the point is, Wendig has delivered a second installment that just improves upon the first, making this a thrilling series that I now believe will be a must-read with each new installment.